Braving the pandemic: New restaurants fight the odds

by Tallahassee Table

What’s opened, closed in Tallahassee in the past year

The pandemic has been a nightmare for most restaurant owners yet it hasn’t kept many entrepreneurs from following their dreams of being a restaurateur.

 While nearly a dozen restaurants have closed in Tallahassee since March (they don’t all attribute closures to Covid-19), at least 17 new venues have decided to face the challenges and launch a new business.

“No one in their right mind would open a wine bar in the midst of the coronavirus,” said Greg Hajcak, who did exactly that. ”But we were beyond the point of no return.”

He and his business partners opened The Hummingbird Wine Bar in Midtown this summer. Along with a wine bar they have a wine club that now has 130 members. But you don’t have to be a member to eat or drink at the wine bar, which has a large outdoor deck.

“It’s been really scary,” said Greg, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. “We were really lucky that we had a group of people join the wine club early on. We won their trust and if not for that core group, I’m not sure we’d be around.”

For Tarun Gupta and his business partner Drew Rudolph, navigating their first business and the coronavirus has been doubly hard. They opened an Indian fast-food place with homemade dishes in September.

“The biggest thing is the uncertainty,” said Tarun. “With the pandemic we’re not sure how out of whack our numbers are. We haven’t been open in normal times to gauge how well we’re doing.”

It’s also been tough to get ingredients, particularly since many are imported, said Tarun.

Many newcomers have had to forgo grand opening splashes, space out tables, turn to non-contact menus and load up on masks and hand sanitizer. Most restaurants, even upscale establishments, have had to embrace takeout and limit crowds.

The owners of Chuck’s Fish originally planned to open in January but due to the pandemic, work was stalled and the launch delayed till late summer.

“I think the people in Tallahassee must have thought there are idiots opening a restaurant now,” Charles Morgan III said shortly after the restaurant’s opening, but the downtown venue has been attracting clientele for its brunch, dinner and outdoor deck. 

“There are definitely challenges,” Max Winger said after opening his restaurant, specializing in Philly cheesesteaks. “I’m doing the best I can to brave the storm and keep it going.”

Here are restaurants and food trucks that I know of, that have opened since March. If you know of any others, please share. 

Photo credit: Argonaut Coffee

Argonaut Coffee/Jeri’s Midtown Cafe: The coffee shop is partnering with Jeri’s and Midtown Reader to launch a cozy cafe in the bookstore’s second floor spot formerly home to the venerable Lucy & Leo’s.The food menu includes classic biscuits with blueberry whipping cream, charcuterie and cheese boards, croissants and pimento cheese tea sandwiches as well as Argonaut java, smoothies and specialty drinks. It’s now having a soft opening. 1123 Thomasville Rd.

Blue Turkey: This hidden gem brings modern, authentic Turkish cuisine to Tallahassee. Dondu Dogru has launched the restaurant with an administrative assist from her husband, Tarik, who teaches in the Dedman College of Hospitality at Florida State University. It’s located at KitchenShare, the incubator food space inside Frenchtown’s Heritage Hub and Farmers’ Market property. For now the restaurant is open only two days a week but they’re looking at adding a brunch menu and hope to eventually move to their own brick and mortar location. 524 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.

Photo Credit: David Blow

Blows Buss Down food truck: David Blow has launched this new food truck offering an array of items including catfish, Philly cheesesteaks, wings, salads and kids’ meals. Check the truck’s Facebook page for Blow’s schedule. 850-294-7975.

Photo credit: Bourne Brilliant

Bourne Brilliant: Sisters Lyrica, Zaira and Nadira Leo, aged 13, 12 and 9 respectively (with help from mom) sell their homemade items, including plant-based food, pastries and teas. They have just expanded to a cafe at 242 E. Orange Ave., 850-354-8618 with retail space in the Railroad Square Breezeway Market, 618 McDonnell Dr.; 850-391-8541.  https://www.restaurantji.com/fl/tallahassee/bourne-brilliant-/

Photo credit: Casa Grande Midtown

Casa Grande Midtown: The Mexican restaurant has recently opened a branch on Thomasville Road across from the Whole Foods shopping center. The menu features lots of favorites like “Guacamole Live,” chicken wings with several sauces, Tex-Mex treats, bowls, tacos, seafood items and specialties like Molcajete, fajitas, pollo asada and carnitas with hand-crafted cocktails. 1800 Thomasville Rd.; 850-727-5911.

Cafe Yerushalmi: This is likely Tallahassee’s only full-service kosher restaurant. Cafe Yerushalmi serves homemade fare “from the Heart of Jerusalem.” Owner Magi Mekaiess prepares authentic dishes such as shakshuka (eggs poached in a tomato sauce), bourekas (a baked pastry with varied fillings), hummus, grape leaves and falafel. 910 Lake Bradford Rd.; 850-807-9895.

Photo credit: Chow Time

Chow Time Grill and Buffet: It’s been a long time coming but the restaurant, Chow Time Buffet and Grill, will be opening its doors for a grand opening Nov. 17 at 1849 Capital Circle NE. The restaurant features all-you-can-eat at a set price. For both lunch and dinner, there are reduced prices for children under 11 and tykes under three eat free. 850-765-2961. 

Photo credit: Chuck’s Fish

Chuck’s Fish: Fresh, Gulf fish and sushi star at this upmarket downtown restaurant, with a bar and outdoor deck; dinner and brunch available. The Gulf fish comes from the restaurant’s seafood market in Destin. Chuck’s also operates nonprofit food trucks called American Lunch that bring free meals to hard-hit communities in the cities where their restaurants are located. Brunch pictured at top of story; courtesy of Chuck’s. 224 E. College Ave.; 850-597-7506. 

Decadent Delights: The new bakery, from owner Arkeba Bouie, specializes in small and large cupcakes, chocolate brownies and layer cakes. It’s at 1779 Apalachee Pkwy; 850-354-8702.

Photo credit: Eggcitement food truck

Eggcitement food truck: The Eggcitement food truck, from the folks at Tally Mac Shack, specializes in “monster” handcrafted breakfast sandwiches. Online ordering available.  1108 Call St. Check Facebook for off-campus stops. 

Fly-By Phillys: Philly cheesesteaks, Pizza Steak and other variations of the Philadelphia classic, plus fries, are available at Fly-By Phillys. 292 N. Magnolia Dr.; 850-404-9928.

Gilliam Soul Sisters: Yashica and Sheree Gilliam are serving the type of homy, comfort food they grew up with, adding their own special touches at their new soul food restaurant in the former spot of Wells Brothers Bar and Grill. The sisters launched their restaurant on Jan. 28 with the grand opening on Feb. 11. There’s been a lot of anticipation for dishes like oxtails, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles and other classics. Sisters seats up to 64 customers inside and they have plans to provide outdoor seating. 1710 W. Tharpe St.; 850-597-8639.

Horizons Bar and Grille: The duo behind the operating team of the former Spear It restaurant on Tennessee Street, Mike Smith and Kyle Flowers, has opened this new venue in the Bannerman Crossings shopping center. Horizons will offer some of the dishes that were big hits at Spear It, like their crispy MacBites nuggets, chicken soup and ribeye. The menu features a lineup of salads, soups and starters, handhelds and tacos (including a pimento cheese sandwich and shrimp po’ boy), and entrees like steaks, salmon, shrimp and steaks plus there are desserts, a kids’ menu and Sunday brunch. The bar menu offers wine and regional craft beer from DEEP Brewing Company, Proof Brewing Company and Oyster City Brewing Company. 3427 Bannerman Rd.; 850-329-2371.

Photo credit: Hummingbird Wine Club

Hummingbird Wine Bar: The “name of the game” at the wine bar and club, is broadening and deepening customers’ experience with wine, said co-owner Greg Hajcak. He and fellow sommeliers joke they want it to be a “home for wine nerds.”  They offer wine tastings, a casual menu including cheese boards, paninis and homemade pimento cheese, blind tastings and an outdoor porch where people can eat and sip. It’s open to the public but they also offer a wine club with member perks and wine deals. 1216 N. Monroe St.; 850-296-2766.

Kami Poke and Korean Kitchen: This casual spot features an extensive menu of Korean favorites like beef bulgogi, bibimbap (rice with beef, veggies and a fried egg) and japchae (glass noodles) as well as sushi and poké bowls. Currently takeout only. 1779 Apalachee Pkwy.; 850-765-8272. 

Photo credit: Max’s

Max’s Cafe: Owner Max Winger specializes in Philly cheesesteaks (with a chicken Philly and vegan and vegetarian versions), shakes and fries. 1600 W. Call St., Suite 104; 850-765-8413.

Midtown Noodles Bar: The pan-Asian restaurant offers ramen noodle combos, along with an array of Thai, Japanese, Korean and Chinese fare. They also serve boba tea. 1660 N. Monroe St.; 850-999-3023.

Photo credit: Tallahassee Democrat

Munchies Pizza: Eric Riser was building up his Munchies Pizza restaurant when shutdowns occurred due to Covid-19 but his business exploded when he started offering deep-dish Chicago pizza that’s nearly two inches high. He opened a second location this summer at 2475 Apalachee Pkwy.;  850-895-9337. The original site, Munchies Pizza Campus, is at 695 W. Virginia St.; 850-759-0660.

Naantheless: Tarun Gupta and his friend, Drew Rudolph, are serving inexpensive, quick but homemade Indian street food in their storefront space. Open lunch and early evenings weekdays. 2020 W. Pensacola St.

Photo credit: OverUnder Bar

OverUnder Bar:  Live music, piano, wine and food pairings set apart this new two-story bar/restaurant in the former Wine Loft venue. 1240 Thomasville Rd.; 850-597-7552.

Park’s Twisted Pizzeria and Grill:  New York-style pizza, wings, sandwiches, burgers and brews are the staples here. 2819 Mahan Dr., Suite 110; 850-999-8147.

Solle’s Pizza: The New York-style pizzeria also serves pasta, subs, calzones and strombolis. 4019 Fred George Rd.; 850-536-7288.

Volcano Hot Pot & BBQ: This branch of a Kissimmee restaurant serves BBQ and make-your-own traditional  hot pot. They recently started offering takeout family bundle deals. 1872 Thomasville Rd.; 850-222-6888.

World of Beer: The local branch of this national chain offers a full, casual menu plus 45 craft beers on tap,  a huge list of beers in the cooler and a range of liquor. 830 E. Lafayette St.; 850-898-2050.

Yasou Mediterranean Cafe: The new, local Southwood restaurant, owned by George Maximos, had its grand opening Nov. 3. The menu features primarily Greek cuisine, including a variety of kebabs, gyro sandwiches and plates, mixed grill, Greek fries, spinach pies and falafel, as well as beef or chicken shawarma, baba ganoush (eggplant puree). They also serve beer with a frozen Stella beer head (like a slushy topping) and baklava ice cream. “Yasou” means hello or “to your health” in Greece. 3551 S. Blair Stone Rd.; 850-692-3415.

Opening soon: Gilliam Sisters Soul Food at 1710 W. Tharpe St., Blue Turkey at KitchenShare in the Frenchtown Heritage Hub, 524 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.

Closures

Just want to say goodbye to the restaurants that have closed since March. While many restaurants were impacted by the virus some closings were reportedly not Covid-related, or at least not the main cause.

Arepana Latin Grill, Barberitos Southwestern Grill & Cantina, Brooklyn Bagel, Chi Chis, Chuys, Damfino’s Cafe & Market (in downtown Quincy), Fire Betty’s Arcade Bar, Finnegan’s, Lucy & Leo’s, Marie Livingston’s, Mellow Mushroom, Spear-It, Soul Vegetarian, Sugar Rush — the Tallahassee Bannerman site only (the All Saints’ site remains open), Sushi Tokyo.

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